It’s Not At All What You’d Hoped

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back with the hashtag was just a pound sign. Vienna, November 2004.

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back when the hashtag was just a pound sign. I’m wearing my favorite hat (lost during Katrina), and my favorite earrings. If you’ve seen my tattoo before, you might recognize the design. Vienna, November 2004.

Hello me. We probably shouldn’t be meeting like this, if certain 1980’s time travel movies are to be believed. Given that I’ll always take Spock’s explanations over Doc Brown’s, though, I guess we’ll be fine. Of course, you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. It will be another five years before the new movie comes out, and at the moment (provided I remember you correctly) you’re still trying to pretend that you aren’t as excited about Federation matters as you obviously are. Yeah, you still admit your love of Star Wars if asked, since no one seems to look down on it as much as they do Star Trek, but seriously lady, come out of the geek closet already. It’s going to be OK. No one is going to shun you for getting a little googly-eyed over the cool costumes and the concept of an entire planet full of people working towards peace. No one that matters, anyway.

I’d offer you some coffee, but you don’t like it. Oh, you will, though. But listen up – don’t go down that dark path towards over-caffeination. It’s pretty much the devil. I’m just now weaning myself off of the stuff after a good five-year dependency. It’s really not worth the effort. Plus, there are even some studies now that say too much coffee can make you gain weight – and yeah, you notice than I’m about forty pounds heavier than you are at 23. So maybe just don’t get into a steady relationship with the java anytime soon, OK? And stop with the diet pills. Just stop.

So about this summer. The decision you made was a tough one, and yeah, you’re going to be replaying it for the rest of your life. It’s always going to be about the math, really. You’ll think “what if” forever. Every year you’ll invent a new scenario to adjust for the time that’s passed. But it’s OK. You had it easier than a lot of people, and I know that you are about 95% fine with how everything went down. Believe me when I say that you’ll continue to be OK with it. From where I’m sitting, 10 years later, I’m nearing the 100% point. There are some very tiny regrets, but not about the way it happened. It was the right choice.

You know why? Because that trip you’re currently on in Vienna, to visit Katie and celebrate your birthday – that’s going to be one of the happiest memories of your life. At your darkest points, you’ll remember the Riesenrad, and missing that stupid flight to Berlin. You’ll be simultaneously horrified and highly amused that you hallucinated Snow White’s evil stepmother. And you’ll be grateful for every second spent in the presence of your beloved friend. Even more important, you’ll come to realize that the moment you decided to book that trip was the moment you chose to pick yourself up and put yourself back together, and to live every single day to the fullest. And the effects of that decision have continued to ripple through your life, making you such a full and interesting person. No, you’ll still never be able to admit that to yourself without feeling guilty and stupid, but as Jean LeLoup says, “…et j’ai des grands instants de lucididité”.

You’re so resilient, Anna. I know it feels right now like he just spent the last year and a half slowly tearing your heart out, and that this summer was the culmination of some horror show that you, the master masochist, willingly signed up for. I know you’re blaming yourself. But believe me – in 10 years time, you will have traveled the world. You will be getting ready for the biggest adventure of your life, finally, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. And he’ll be balding, and spouting worn out platitudes via social media (don’t worry, you’ll find out more about that later), and generally annoying you every time he happens to cross your mind. The love stays. But reality breaks in, and it brings a hell of a lot of peace with it.

I suppose I should give you some hints about what’s coming up for you. This next year is going to be great, until it isn’t. You’re going to have a lot of fun hanging out with your new friends, and working at K-Paul’s. And you’re going to get into grad school, and go back to Vienna and Paris and London again this summer. It’s going to be an amazing dream of a year, the best you’ve ever had, and the best you’ll have for some time to come. Once you come home, though, there’s going to be a hurricane. You’ll lose everything you own, be disowned by your family, and will have to move across the country to start over again from scratch. But you’ll meet a ton of new friends, and that new strength, the strength that you found on your trip to Vienna, that’s going to get you through it all. You will rise to the occasion, and it will mold you into something different. The phoenix. Me.

I wish I could tell you now that you shouldn’t go back to New Orleans when your heart starts yearning for home that winter, but then you wouldn’t meet your next serious boyfriend. And you’ll want to meet him. It will be an interesting time. He’ll teach you a lot about yourself. But he’ll make you forget a lot about yourself, too. Make your decisions carefully, my love. I wish I could give you some guidance, but you already know that your major problem is always going to be your self esteem, paired with a near pathological need to be of service to those you love. The challenge is going to be figuring out when to jump ship. If I were you, I’d talk to that guy at the end of the bar on our 30th birthday. Yeah, I know that’s seven years from now in your world, but keep it in mind. You’ll know who I’m talking about when you get there.

Oh 23-year old Anna, I love you. More importantly, other people do, too. I wish that 33-year old Anna could keep that in focus more often. Am I rambling? Is anything I’m saying even making sense to you? I guess more than anything, all I want to say is to pay attention, enjoy the little things, stop placing so much weight on other people’s needs, and place a little more on your own. Just follow your intuition. Take the lesson you learned from that one leap of faith and multiply it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how things turn out – how YOU turn out. It’s not at all what you’d hoped.

It’s much better.

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